Chronic illness is defined as a condition that lasts for a year or longer. Examples of chronic illnesses include, but are not limited to: heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, autoimmune disorders and multiple sclerosis. PBS.org states that more than 125 million Americans have at least one chronic illness and estimates that by the year 2020, 157 million Americans will have a chronic illness.
These illnesses can cause a drastic change in one’s lifestyle. They can interfere with employment, interpersonal relationships, and individuals independence, and just disrupt the “normalcy” of their lifestyle. Not only do individuals who suffer with chronic illnesses have to deal with the illness itself, they often have to deal with the feelings of having the illness, the effects of the illness, difficulties obtaining treatment due to the health care crisis, and the side effects of medications used to treat the illness.
Individuals that suffer from chronic illnesses also are more likely to suffer from depression. The symptoms of depression are sometimes overlooked because they are overshadowed by the illness or dismissed as “normal feelings” of a person dealing with a chronic illness. Individuals dealing with chronic illness and depression should be evaluated to determine the source of the depression.
It is also common for individuals suffering from chronic illnesses to feel angry about their disease and they often feel a sense of loss. When working with individuals dealing with a chronic disease, I will often encourage them to work through the stages of grief. Many are familiar with the Kubler-Ross model, commonly known as the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I feel these stages are applicable to several life situations and learning to live with a chronic illness is no exception.
There are ways to make the best of life when dealing with a chronic illness. I believe the first step is acceptance. I apply the Serenity Prayer to several areas of my life on a daily basis, and this area is no exception. I ask constantly to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I also believe in getting support; finding strength in sharing with close friends or reaching out to a support group, getting involved with others and sharing their experiences and hope. I find it is not only rewarding for myself, but it gives me the opportunity to give to others.
I recently met a woman dealing with a chronic illness who shared something with me I will never forget. She said for years she asked “why me?” in regards to her chronic illness. She stated one day she asked “why not me?” She shared she began to question her faith in God and had a miraculous revelation. She states she now thanks God for giving her an illness. She believes it has taught her faith, strength, patience and humility. She is a strong believer God does not give us more than we can bear and now feels he must consider her to be very strong.
Dealing with a chronic illness is no walk in the park, it can be challenging and it can be tough. However, I believe we are all have the ability to overcome difficult things. Challenge yourself to find your strengths in perceived weaknesses, joy in the time of pain, and the silver lining in every cloud.
Wistful girl photo available from Shutterstock.
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Last reviewed: 28 Jun 2012